Whistle-Blower Claims D.A. Investigator Threatened Him

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A whistle-blower who has testified before the county grand jury about purported corruption and wrongdoing in the county Department of Social Services charged Thursday that a district attorney's investigator threatened him for revealing his findings to the grand jury.

David Sossaman, a fraud investigator with the county Department of Social Services, said investigator Jonas Pumphrey "threatened to get me" for telling the grand jury about Pumphrey's alleged role in "various" cover-ups of welfare fraud.

A committee of the grand jury is investigating allegations that several welfare department officials and fraud investigators covered up some employee fraud cases over the years and failed to prosecute others.

District attorney officials denied there is a vendetta against Sossaman, but conceded that Pumphrey and another investigator went to three jewelry stores where Sossaman worked part-time as a security guard and demanded to see his employment records. They said that activity was coincidental and part of a separate investigation.

Pumphrey could not be reached for comment.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert L. Boles, who supervised a massive welfare fraud investigation that resulted in 20 arrests in October, dismissed Sossaman's charges.

Pumphrey worked closely with Boles in the investigation and signed the search warrant affidavits in the recent case, which resulted in charges against five former welfare employees and 15 accomplices of stealing about $1 million from the county.

The district attorney's special investigations unit is responsible for investigating and prosecuting welfare fraud cases. The district attorney's investigators work with the Department of Social Services's fraud investigators on probes of employee and recipient fraud.

Steve Casey, spokesman for Dist. Atty. Edwin L. Miller, said the allegations by Sossaman are "simply false."

"He has made some unkind statements about Pumphrey that are wholly unsupported and don't contribute anything to the inquiry," Casey said.

Sossaman said Pumphrey and an investigator from the state Employment Development Department went to three shopping malls where Sossaman worked part-time in 1990 as a security guard at Bailey, Banks & Biddle jewelry stores.

Kendra Rolls, manager of the store at University Towne Centre, said Pumphrey and the other investigator showed up and demanded the employment records of guards working at the store. She said she was called in advance by the manager of the Fashion Valley store, who warned her that Pumphrey and the other investigator were inquiring about the security guards.

Boles identified the EDD investigator as Joe Candelaria, but denied that Pumphrey and Candelaria had singled Sossaman out for investigation.

Boles said Candelaria was conducting a separate investigation of security guards and agencies for the state to determine if their earnings and benefits were being properly reported.

"They (EDD) called us and requested that an investigator from our office help Candelaria. It's just coincidental that Pumphrey was assigned, and it's coincidental that the EDD investigation has anything to do with Sossaman," Boles said.

Candelaria, who is on vacation, could not be reached for comment.

Sossaman scoffed at Boles' explanation. Sossaman said he earned $4,000 from his part-time security job in 1990 and reported his earnings to both the state and the Internal Revenue Service.

"Is it coincidental that they chose the three malls and the three stores where I worked in 1990? I don't think so," Sossaman said.

Del Mar attorney Michael D. Curran, who is representing Sossaman, sent a letter to Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller on Thursday demanding an internal investigation of Pumphrey's alleged threats against Sossaman. He charged Pumphrey with acting under color of authority in conducting an illegal investigation of Sossaman's part-time job.

In the letter, Curran also alleged that Sossaman has received threatening phone calls that have caused "extreme concern for his personal safety and the safety of his family." However, the caller or callers were not identified, and Sossaman declined to discuss the matter further.

The two-page, single-spaced letter from Curran accused Pumphrey of criminal wrongdoing and trying to intimidate Sossaman in order to prevent him from giving the grand jury additional information. The letter also said Pumphrey was questioned by the grand jury, which allegedly is looking into investigations conducted by Pumphrey.

"As a result of Sossaman's testimony, we are informed and believe Pumphrey . . . was questioned extensively regarding his alleged role in mishandled investigations and cover-ups of welfare fraud," Curran's letter contended. "Based on the evidence presented, it is believed the investigation currently being conducted by the grand jury may link Pumphrey to some of the malfeasance described herein."

In a telephone interview, Sossaman acknowledged that he brought Pumphrey to the grand jury's attention.

The letter claimed that an angry Pumphrey went to Lee Loveall, Sossaman's supervisor at the Social Services office, and threatened to get even with Sossaman.

According to the letter, Pumphrey told Loveall: "I was raked over the coals by the grand jury because of information they got from Sossaman, and paybacks are a bitch."

Loveall declined to comment on the allegations raised in Curran's letter, said Carol Baenziger, spokeswoman for the social services department.

But another fraud investigator interviewed by The Times, who insisted on anonymity, confirmed Sossaman's charge, saying he had overheard the conversation.

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